Ligonier Valley begins new chapter in WPIAL football playoffs

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Saturday, October 30, 2021 | 9:03 PM


Ligonier Valley’s football team will open a new chapter in its school’s history.

The ninth-seeded Rams will play their first WPIAL playoff game when they travel to Beaver County to take on No. 8-seeded South Side in a Class 2A first-round contest.

Ligonier Valley rejoined the WPIAL prior to the 2020 season after spending the previous 50 years in District 6 where the Rams won two district titles and played in the Class 2A championship game four consecutive years (2016-19).

The Rams, who finished the regular season 8-2, won their final three Allegheny Conference games to qualify for the playoffs.

Their 48-22 victory against Apollo-Ridge on Friday was the 140th in coach Roger Beitel’s career.

“I’m so proud of this team and these seniors,” Beitel said. “They presented me the game ball after the game. Now we’re getting ready for the playoffs, and I know our opponent is going to face a battled-tested squad.

“I feel we played in one of the strongest conferences. To finish third behind Steel Valley and Serra is something to be proud of. We had some quality wins early when we defeated Indiana and Elizabeth Forward.”

South Side earned second place in the Three Rivers Conference by defeating Western Beaver, 27-7, on Saturday afternoon.

Surprisingly, Steel Valley was seeded No. 1 over returning Class 2A runner-up Sto-Rox. Laurel was seeded third and Washington fourth.

“We’ve been in the playoffs before,” Beitel said. “Now we’re facing someone new opponents.”

Ligonier Valley senior Grant Dowden, who scored three touchdowns and intercepted a pass Friday, said joining the WPIAL was the best thing for the program.

“I love it,” Dowden said. “We’ve played some very good teams.”

There were no surprises in the Class 5A and Class 4A brackets.

Moon (10-0) received the top seed in Class 5A. Penn-Trafford (8-2) earned the second seed after a strong finish to the regular season. Returning WPIAL and PIAA champion Pine-Richland (6-4) was given the third seed and Gateway (7-3) the fourth seed. The top four seeds received a first-round bye.

Penn-Trafford will host the winner of Upper St. Clair and Fox Chapel in the quarterfinals Nov. 12.

In Class 4A, Belle Vernon (8-0) earned the top seed and a first-round bye. Aliquippa (8-1) is the second seed followed by McKeesport (8-2) and Hampton (10-0). Returning WPIAL and PIAA champion Thomas Jefferson (6 2) is seeded fifth.

The Leopards will host the winner of Highlands and New Castle in the quarterfinals Nov. 12.

“Being seeded No. 1 was something we expected,” Belle Vernon coach Matt Humbert said. “It was a motivational tool to get a bye and a home game. Now we get chance to have a stressless week of preparation.”

The bye week also gives the Leopards a chance to heal up after a physical battle against McKeesport.

Greensburg Central Catholic (6-4) also earned a home game, sort of. The Centurions garnered the eighth seed in the Class A playoffs and will host No. 9 Our Lady of the Sacred Heart (6-3) at 7 p.m. Friday at Hempfield Area Spartan Stadium.

The Centurions finished fourth in the Eastern Conference following a 31-27 loss to Leechburg. OLSH qualified for the playoffs by upsetting No. 2 seed Cornell, 13-12.

Clairton, the Eastern Conference champion and last year’s Class A runner-up, received the No. 1 seed and a first-round bye. Bishop Canevin is the third seed, and West Greene earned the fourth seed.

Clairton will face the winner of Greensburg Central Catholic and OLSH. GCC last played in the WPIAL playoffs in 2019 when it lost to West Greene, 36-0. The Centurions haven’t won a playoff game since 2011.

Monessen (4-6) returned to the WPIAL playoffs for the first time since 2018. The quarterback for the Greyhounds was freshman Devin Whitlock, who later transferred to Belle Vernon.

The No. 15 Greyhounds will face Cornell (7-2) on Friday at West Allegheny.

Mt. Pleasant (5-4) and Southmoreland (7-3) earned first-round home games after they tied South Allegheny for second place in the Class 3A Interstate Conference.

On Friday, No. 6 Mt. Pleasant will host No. 11 Burrell (3-7), a team it defeated 40-7 to open the season, while No. 8 Southmoreland will welcome No. 9 East Allegheny (4-5). These teams are former Keystone Conference foes. This is the first time the Scotties will host a playoff game.

It’s also the second time in three years that the Scotties qualified for the playoffs. They fell to Avonworth, 41-0, in 2019.

The WPIAL announced that the Class 6A championship game will be played Nov. 20 at Norwin.

The other five championship games will be at Heinz Field on Nov. 26 and 27. The Class A and Class 2A games will be on Nov. 26, and the 3A, 4A and 5A games on Nov. 27.

Paul Schofield is a TribLive reporter covering high school and college sports and local golf. He joined the Trib in 1995 after spending 15 years at the Daily Courier in Connellsville, where he served as sports editor for 14 years. He can be reached at pschofield@triblive.com.

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